Affect Control Theory

If I do a postdoc, part of the work will be reading every single thing on ‘affect control theory’ (ACT) and taking it out of the hands of the governmental types in criminology. I pledge to never again write it as ACT, ie a TLA (three letter acronym). Have other people known about this approach? Has anyone read about it in the work of more familiar cultural studies academics? I hadn’t heard about it until tonight! This is one of those moments where I can safely say, with respect to my getting near-overdue PhD dissertation done, “Enough!”

What is very interesting is that I have missed an entire history of ‘subcultural studies’ that can (sort of) be traced from a single article (and here is someone’s notes on it posted to their blog):

Fine, Gary Alan and Sherryl Kleinman. “Rethinking Subculture: An Interactionist Analysis.” The American Journal of Sociology, Vol 85, No 1 (July 1979), 1-20.

For example, this article or an extract from it is not in the main (routledge) subcultures reader. Why not? It is not that important that it is absent, except to show the frustrating bias in cultural studies towards the ideology-text based conception of culture and so on. The entirety of that volume, a mainstay for teaching cultstuds, is derived from the structuralist-semiotic Birmingham School model. Anyway, I found out about this article while rereading Abercrombie and Longhurst’s Audiences:

Fine and Kleinman also emphasize the need for analysis to concern itself with what they call the “affective” dimension of subcultures (p. 12). People need to be seen as involved in choices about culture and the extent of the identification with the culture needs to be considered and researched. …

As you can read the second sentence has little to do with the claims of the first. More importantly is what Fine and Kleinman meant by ‘affective’!?!WTF has the ‘affective dimension’ of anything got to do with the way people make choices or with processes of (cultural?) identification? Abercrombie and Longhurst then go on to discuss the difference between fans and enthusiasts with no discussion of ‘enthusiasm’ as primarily an affective relation, ie a state of individuation in which one is enthusiastic. Instead they offer a 3 x 3 table that shows how they are defining the difference between fan, cult, and enthusiast. I don’t agree with any of it, or rather their schema is fine, but their definitions are somewhat abitrary. I completely missed this reference to ‘affective dimension’. It is probably because I first read it 3 years ago and didn’t understand the importance of affect.

Anyway, I found this article where something very similar to one of my core conclusions from my PhD is buried mid-paragraph toward the end:

As I have interpreted two recent ACT investigations of subcultural phenomena, the term subculture is defined and operationalized as patterned deviation in affective sentiments.


Cut through the formal criminology jargon (“operationalized” is a sign of the becoming-military of sociology!) and you have subculture defined in terms of the affective commitments of participants.

Besides the specifics regarding modified-car culture, I have just spent three years of my life working my butt off to arrive at the same place, but through a massive ‘deviation’ through obscure French philosophers and other similar stuff. It appears as if the sociologists don’t have the same understanding of the (‘machinic’) media as Deleuzians, so at least that is something I can add.

EDIT: Ok, I am just going to forget about this otherwise I am going to be sucked into reading a million more bloody journal articles and books.

4 thoughts on “Affect Control Theory”

  1. Dear sir,
    Hello! I am a student of china. Now I read something about affect control theory, but I can’t get more datum about it.I think you might know more. Can you send me some information about it?My e-mail is “”.Waiting for your reply.thank you very much!

  2. Hmm, sounds like you have an overload of ideas and thoughts, and possibly a to-do list with no visible horizon. It remains a fascinating theory and scary too. But us humans are so gullible anyway and philosophizing is way more comfortable than scientific analysis. Especially if the wine is really good! Nevertheless, reading is required as it is the only way to know the mind of your opponent/enemy.

    Often we see the government as our enemy whereas the reality is we are our own enemy, mostly. ACT does help us to understand ourselves too, in a way we may not suspect. Hidden qualities and all that.

    So go for it!

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